Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Crazy Taxi Drivers and Dog Poo

As I was running this morning, I thought about some interesting things to tell you about city life in Montevideo. We’ll see if I can collect my thoughts:
I’ve been taught growing up that you don’t litter and my coaches in High School repeated over and over that they weren’t my mother and therefore were going to make me run if they had to pick up after me. So, upon arriving in Montevideo, they way people treat their garbage was kind of a shock. First, they have dumpsters where we carry our garbage and they are regularly picked up by the city. However, there are a certain “class” of people who live in the outskirts of the city and come around either on bicycles or horses pulling trailers and they sort through the trash for anything that might be useful. This serves as the recycling service as well since they pull out all the materials able to be recycled and turn it in for money. It seems as though this has become a way of life for both them and the rest of the people of Montevideo. Some leave food, usually leftovers, out in front of their houses or hang plastic bags from the trees with stuff that they can use. Also, if you have a plastic or glass bottle, the custom is to leave in on the sidewalk next to the dumpster.
Secondly, people don’t have any qualms about throwing trash on the ground all over the place. You especially see this on the main streets where people are hired to stand out in front of businesses and hand out flyers to passerby. Entire the block around the distributor is littered with the pieces of paper that he or she just handed out. I think the reason behind this is creating jobs. There is a huge unemployment problem in Uruguay and even if you do have a job it’s for very low pay. So, if there is trash on the ground the government can hire workers to clean it up. Everyday that I run through the park close to the Casa, I see workers cleaning up trash from the grass. At the beach as well (I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before) they clean the sand of garbage and whatever floats ashore from the river.
The traffic is crazy here in South America! It’s very interesting to watch drivers interact with each other via flashing headlights and their horns. As they drive they don’t really give any concern to the painted markings either. If there is a space between two cars you’ll see a driver squeeze through honking all the while to let the others know that he is there. In Peru, we rode in a couple of busses who would pass other vehicles in the strangest places. I think we passed another bus as we went over a speed bump once, so we were both going about 5 miles an hour!
We’ve thought about renting some kind of scooter to get around town faster, but I think I would kill myself! The traffic is crazy, but I’ve never seen such good drivers. They put people in the States to shame with their attention to the task at hand, awareness of the road and other vehicles, and quick response times. I feel more comfortable riding in a taxi here I think than I would in the states. We had a couple of close calls in taxis in Lima, Peru (where the traffic is supposed to be the worst in all of Latin America) but no accidents. We also got to see some road rage in Lima where a man reached out his window and tried to slash the tires of a taxi next to him because the driver wouldn’t let him merge! To be honest I’ve only seen three total accidents while I’ve been here. The first happened in Minas where everyone had the typical small town reaction. It looked as though the entire police force was there directing traffic (all of 2 cars every 10 minutes or so) around the accident and people up and down the street were hanging there heads out windows to see what all the “hubbub” was about. The second was in Cusco where we saw a taxi back into a light pole while trying to turn around in their ridiculously narrow streets and shattered his rear window. The third was this morning while running I saw a motorcycle and a car slide into each other. Both parties were okay and it didn’t look as though there was much damage, but it really surprised me to even see an accident after all the experiences we’ve had.
The sidewalks here are one heck of an extraordinary mix of amazing ingenuity and frustrating inconvenience. They aren’t a complete slab of concrete, but instead are made of individual concrete tiles stuck together. It seems like a great idea allowing the roots of trees to grow without breaking the costly sidewalk and when they’ve worked in the water works nearby, all they’ve had to do was pull up the tiles and dig down to the pipes, replacing everything when they were finished. But inevitably as you walk down the street there are broken tiles everywhere, tiles missing, and the tiles put in place but not stuck down. These latter are really annoying after it rains and they seem to float on the surface of a hidden puddle, only to splash your entire lower body when stepped on. There is also the problem of dog poop that one must dodge while walking down the street. This kind of applies to the first category in that we’ve been taught to pick up after our pets in the States. I really don’t know who ends up cleaning up the “sidewalk feces”.

In contrast, people like to take care of their sidewalks. It’s common place to see people outside their home or business cleaning the walk with a bucket of soapy water and a broom or even just sweeping the leaves off into the street. People take pride in having a clean place in front of their respective homes or shops.


Autumn said...

I'm impressed you run there. I was always afraid for my ankles when I went running. :)

Karen said...

Yep, THAT's why I don't run here -- and, just to be safe, anywhere else...